ARTIST: Archipelago Swell
RELEASE: Archipelago Swell EP
RELEASE DATE: 14th September 2016
RECORD COMPANY: Unsigned
There are support groups for drug users, there are support groups for alcoholics; where is the support group for fans of post-rock? Much like the aforementioned substances post-rock is addictive, translucent and a trip of sorts for the listener; for those addicted, we must always go searching for the next ambient, picturesque sound of swirling guitars and pounding drums. On this search it is clear to see just how popular the genre has become and fully displays the kind of culture (or aesthetic) its fans sport and love. But, as is with every genre, there are both masterpieces and… I don’t know, less than masterpieces? Where does Scottish post-rock/post-metal/instrumental band Archipelago Swell’s self-titled EP land on that spectrum? Well, somewhere in the middle, I suppose…
Archipelago Swell begins with ‘Terraforms’ a dark, heavy piece of post-metal underpinned with a touch of psychedelia for good measure. Impressively, the guitars switch between the tones of a heavy metal band to that of beautiful touching post-rock soundscapes; the drums do a similar dance but not as obvious or perhaps entrancing. In fact, the drums and percussion stay heavy and airy for most of the EP, something that always brings the band back to its post-rock roots; in a good way. As with most songs on the EP, the guitars eventually launch into a much, much heavier sound that rickets through your speakers with all the makings of Viking metal, backed nicely to sound heavier by the drums and the neat but at times inaudible bass. For the most part ‘Terraforms’ takes the shape of almost an intro track; the beginning shuffles around minimally (for the most part) before evolving into a heavier/metal-infused track of an epic scale. And that’s where things get a little bit awkward. After some beautifully intricate guitar playing and soft-dream like backing and textures, Archipelago Swell begin to turn up the metal-scale, and do so to their advantage; things still seem neat and instrumentally interesting. And then after the three minute mark there is a cringe-worthy tempo and riff alteration that weaves itself into some slightly embarrassing drum pieces and boring-as-paint-drying guitar *sexually explicit word*. For the small portion of what could be considered an outro the band regain some of the magic that was withheld at ‘Terraforms’ playful beginning, but all in all the bizarre attempt at ‘experimental’ rock is enough to make the listener take a step back and assesse what the band was trying to do.
‘Terraforms’ is followed by ‘The Overview Effect’ a much wider, epic track in which the band majestically bounce back and showcase their true talent. A sweet, colourfully intellectual piece of music, filled with everything the band are good at; blending instruments, writing cohesive and enjoyable riffs and walking the preverbal line between post-rock and post-metal in a greatly pleasing way. The song builds around a sweet, sketched out guitar line that sweeps and plays around the pounding but delicate drums and churning bass guitar. Epic in scale but never pretentious, the band dabble with a touch of math rock in the outro; which is where some of the greatest slices of music on the track are stationed. This track functions as a full leap into the core of the sort of sound that features on the EP and a step beyond the basic functions of ‘Terraforms’.
What follows is ‘Olympus Mons’ which is… Not that flash actually. What starts as a semi-interesting guitar riff just goes on and on, full of meaty-ness or whatever you want to call it… Occasionally there is a noise in the background that’s supposed to make us all go ‘what a post-rock song this is’ but isn’t really fooling anybody. Wait, I’ll do a cover for you: *Chug-Chug-Chug-Chug* *drum roll* and so on and so forth. Congratulations to the bass player who wrote and played interestingly enough to keep the band slightly above water. This isn’t offensive or meant to be abusive because I still think the previous track is absolutely brilliant, and that elements of ‘Terraforms’ are also beautiful and genius pieces of song writing; but I really don’t know about ‘Olympus Mons’. So here goes; the song has way too much reverb, the opening sounds like an interlude; the riff is uninspiring, generic and bland… And then there is the mixing and the production… Which leaves a lot to be desired. The levels of the guitar on the second half of the song are just so all over the place it literally transcends making an effort. It’s like somebody spilt alcohol on the mixing desk and the levels just started doing the can-can all over the place. And what in all musical sanity made the band put galloping guitars in… Like what are they doing in the song? Is this to try and see-saw the song between credible but bland music and humour? I don’t know. I really don’t know. I didn’t want to make it sound like this, but this is the PG version of what could be written about this; I apologise, but I just can’t put it any smoother. That’s just ‘Olympus Mons’ and how it sounds, how it’s mixed and how it’s heard.
‘Olympus Mons’ leads into ‘Accretion’ which seems somewhat refreshing, albeit nowhere near the pleasing heights of the EPs opposing half. There is more chugging at the songs opening, reminiscent and following on from ‘Olympus Mons’, but this gesture soon seeps into a soft and pleasing outro. Said outro presents a beautiful and majestic piece of post-rock guitar playing. The drums and bass ease back and the whole song sounds like a gentle and atmospheric sigh of relief; like a return to form for the band who use the outro to showcase their talent at simple and dreamy song writing. Eventually the softness of the outro blends into a more heavy and guitar orientated piece of music. I feel like this part of the song is what ‘Olympus Mons’ was trying to or could have been; a nice and enjoyable but epic piece of music.
Okay, okay, okay; a few things you should know. It may sound like in this review that I’m spitting on post-metal… I’m not. I actually love post-metal and the sort of sound and instrumentation a band or artist can play around with while under the moniker of its name. This band has some fantastic pieces of music that are definitely worth listening to. And ultimately, I think both post-rock and post-metal are difficult genres to sound refreshing or original within. But Archipelago Swell at times just try to transcend this difficulty… You’re probably saying ‘well they aren’t pro so…’ but one would only have to look as far as how absolutely mesmerizing unsigned post-rock can be by listening to ‘Vinter’ by the majestic and very talented ‘Star of Heaven’ from Stockholm. And while there are certainly many beautiful and fantastic pieces of music and songs on Archipelago Swell, I just can’t help but wonder what they were doing on some songs. At times it’s awkward, at times it’s cringey and at times I wondered whether the band had re-listened to the songs before releasing them. Anyway… I did enjoy some of it, and those pieces of enjoyment were enough to perhaps recommend the EP around, but ultimately I just guess that the listener can decide for themselves. If you enjoy post-metal, if you enjoy post-rock then you might appreciate this. If you are looking for some instrumental songs to chuck on in the background without looking too closely at them, this is for you. If you’re a stickler for production, assessing song writing structures and neatly looking ‘into’ the mixing and the songs meaning, then this is not for you. Credit, however, to the band for their performances, which throughout shine and make things interestingly swift and engaging. Shout out to the bassist for keeping things always interesting throughout the EP (that’s not a joke). You should know that within this EP there is some fantastic and engaging music from a band whose talent sometimes drift, but when it’s practiced; it’s a rewarding listen. Within this talent the band impress through blending, performance and sound.
Archipelago Swell is available to buy/download right now from archipelagoswell.bandcamp.com
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Cam Phillips is a writer and above all, a music lover, who seeks to gain experience through writing and listening. He is also an avid film viewer and art and literature junkie who enjoys creative writing. His most recent published work was featured on the Australian heavy music blog, I Probably Hate Your Band.